Kanye Was Doomed
Heres a Bonnaroo fun fact. As I was walking over to the Kanye West set around 5 a.m. on Sunday morning after closing out that days edition of the Bonnaroo Beacon, I ran into two (and only two) individuals on the artist/VIP path heading away from the main field. Indeed, as I headed towards the What Stage, Phil Lesh and Jim James were sauntering off (separately) in the opposite direction after taking in their share of Kanye and now preparing for other endeavors (likely sleep).
As I passed through the fence, I could see that Lesh and James were joining an exodus, as a steady stream of folks were making their way to the rear of the field. Nonetheless, I will say that I was impressed by how many people were still in there, welcoming the dawn with Kanyes Not-Quite Glow In The Dark Show.
So what happened? Here’s my report…
Before I get there though let me just say that while this may be heresy to a few of you, I was looking forward to seeing Kanye West at Bonnaroo. He is the perfect example of an artist on the bill that I would be extremely unlikely to see in any other setting. While the nature of the Bonnaroo line-up (and the sheer number of performers) has changed a bit since the inaugural festival, the event now offers an opportunity to revisit some favorites (The Disco Biscuits, Phil, Umphreys, Drive-By Truckers, PBS, MMJ), take in a couple of bands for the second or third go round (Lee Boys, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings) and also to experience some acts for the very first time (Battles, Sparrow Quartet, Mastodon – now theres a trinity). It was within this context that I was drawn to Kanye and his Glow In The Dark performance.
However, not only did he take the stage two hours later than billed but his appearance was preceded by choruses of boos and (I am told) bottles hurled at the stage (which is just never cool, no matter how you slice it).
The end result? Well, graffiti like what you see below
along with sharp comments by various artists over the course of Sunday at the fest, yielding West’s own rant on his product placement enhanced blog.
So where did it all go wrong? Here are four contributing factors
1.Stage plot According to Kanye’s blog, some of the problems from the get go arose from the fact that the stage at Bonnaroo did not meet the specific requirements of his production. I can’t say that I have much sympathy for him on this point- it’s a festival gig after all, not his own show. He should have been a bit more accommodating here to scale things accordingly.
2. Pearl Jam Okay, PJ ran an our hour over, any objections? None here for what was a rousing, at times wrenching, three hours of music. However, this did throw off the schedule a bit. I can sympathize with Kanye here as his people had to wait an additional hour to load in his elaborate production. What’s more, I can vouch for the ensuing tension, as when I cut backstage to the press trailer shortly after the Pearl Jam set, there were a number of anxious crew members, both Kanye’s people and on the festival side, hauling in the requisite gear.
3. Notice Eddie Vedder said something from the stage towards the end of his set about folks needing to hang on and hang out a while before Kanye stepped up. Again in Kanye’s defense, I think a little more realistic communication from the stage over the next three hours couldn’t have hurt, particularly because there were fans who made their move as soon as Pearl Jam ended to ensure that they would be up front for Kanye (really, I ran past a crush of folks as I cut back to work on the Beacon).
4. Stage Presence Ultimately this one falls to Kanye. Before he began his set, he should have explained why he was so late and offered some form of apology (even if it was only partially his fault). Okay, I get it, he didn’t want to break out of character, he’s a space traveler, flying solo through the cosmos by himself. Umm…but he’s a space traveler flying solo through the cosmos facing thousands of folks who have been sitting on their butts waiting for him to take the stage for a loooong while. If he couldn’t do it, maybe he could have sent out someone in his stead (heck, maybe the good ship Jane could have done so. No, no, I get it, that wouldn’t work because Jane is a space ship and that wouldn’t be realistic).
It is this last point that rankles me the most, as it manifests so much artist arrogance and little compassion for the folks inclined to support said artist.
Oh yes, and while were on the topic of arrogance, I mentioned that Phil Lesh and Jim James had wandered out onto the main field (when I saw them they were returning). They might have experienced the show from a closer vantage point but for the fact that Kanye’s people had gone in and re-routed traffic around the backstage area. In fact, they had closed some of the fencing that otherwise carried folks to the What Stage. Then they locked it all down, even to festival staffers with all-access Infinity Passes, explaining, I am told that “Infinity isn’t quite so infinite, anymore.”
So there you have it. Again, I don’t think that West was altogether to blame and I will express my sincere disappointment that I was unable to check out his Glow In The Dark show in all its glowy glowiness. In the end though, I’ll leave my story with Kanye’s Guardians of the Infinite and the observation that everything ran so late prior to his performance that if one were to look at the official festival schedule, Kanye Wests set was over before it even began, which to my mind pretty much says it all….